Specialised hosting services are nothing new. Most users with niche requirements will find hosting to suit. We’ve noticed many site builder tools geared towards particular specialisms, and HostBaby fits into that category too.
HostBaby is a specialised hosting platform for musicians, and it offers tools and services you’ll find useful if you’re in a band. When I tried HostBaby for a friend, I was surprised to find that it’s actually pretty powerful and could save non-technical users some time, but it’s not all good news.
What is HostBaby?
Hostbaby is a hosted content management solution for musicians and authors. It’s aimed at helping them get an attractive site online quickly and with minimal fuss.
HostBaby uses a system similar to WordPress. Users can create posts, add pages and organise content. HostBaby also offers users simple yet powerful design tools so that they can customise the look and feel of their site.
The custom apps and tools are the main attraction. There’s a calendar, audio player, photo gallery, custom bios, contact forms, press pages, stores and more. Customers can use CDBaby to sell tracks iTunes, Amazon MP3 and other online music stores, and they also have access to ListBaby, the company’s email newsletter management system.
The system is supposed to be a one-stop shop for all musicians to get a website together.
HostBaby: the Pros
HostBaby’s themes are beautiful and varied. There’s plenty of choice, and all of them would look professional on a typical musician or band website. The editing tools are straightforward and allow for basic customisations in real time.
Feature-wise, Hostbaby is pretty complete. You can add audio files, a photo gallery, an events calendar and more to your site. All have been built for musicians, so there’s no tweaking to do: just choose the components you need and add the content.
HostBaby: the Cons
Simplicity doesn’t always inspire confidence. I found that HostBaby lacked a certain amount of flexibility. The theme customisation options are pretty limited; for example, I couldn’t change some colours without altering the CSS by hand. It goes against the idea of the site somewhat.
Users also can’t make any major changes to the site’s layout: customisation is achieved purely through the widgets provided, and if you want to do anything more complex, you’ll need to try to hack the CSS.
The content editor and image uploading tools are confusing and some are quite non-professional. Again, the quest for simplicity has trumped any really useful or impressive features. The calendar, bios, audio page and other widgets are great. The blog tool is very limited. Anyone who is used to using WordPress or Tumblr is going to balk at HostBaby’s blogging setup, and in many cases, it probably won’t even be used.
Yes, you could sign up for a developer account to get more control. But that essentially makes HostBaby an overpriced hosting provider with a few extra apps that are no different to free WordPress plugins.
HostBaby: the Verdict
HostBaby achieves its goal of making it easy and fast to set up a musician website that is both beautiful and complete. To do that, however, it sacrifices flexibility and usability, and anyone serious about customisation will need to learn basic CSS.
I came away impressed by the default templates, but don’t expect to coast your way to a perfect site: you’ll need to make compromises along the way.